SpiceJet operates country’s first biojet fuel flight

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The flight was powered by a blend of 75% air turbine fuel and 25% biojet fuel.

A blend of oil from jatropha seeds and aviation turbine fuel propelled the country’s first ever bio-jet fuel powered flight on Monday between Dehradun and Delhi.

The 43 minute flight was operated by SpiceJet’s Bombardier Q-400 aircraft with 20 officials and five crew members onboard.

A blend of 25% of bio jet fuel and 75% of aviation turbine fuel (ATF) was carried in one of the two engines of the plane, while the other engine carried only ATF. International standards permit a blend rate of upto50% bio fuel with ATF.

“Today’s flight was a technological demonstration that bio jet fuel can be used in flights. It has the potential to reduce fuel costs by 15-20%,” SpiceJet Chairman and Managing Director, Ajay Singh said after the flight landed at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International airport.

Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari said, “A policy will soon be framed on bio jet fuel for aviation industry and placed before the Cabinet.”  Inedible oil seeds like jatropha have low per acre productivity and there is a need to use biotechnology to enhance yields, he added.

The indigenously developed fuel has been nearly eight years in the making by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research based in Dehradun along with Indian Institute of Petroleum (IIP). The institute started its experiment on bio-fuel soon after Virgin Atlantic carried out the first test flight globally in 2008.  By 2010, the Indian institute starting producing few litres of bio fuel per month in its laboratory. The fuel was recognised by American Standard for Testing and Material and received a patent by 2011. By 2013, it was tested in a Pratt and Whitney engine in Canada.

“We produced 430 litres of HEFA bio jet fuel in four days and took a month to test it for today’s flight. We have the requisite technology, which is ready to be transferred for use by oil refineries for mass scale production,” said Anjan Ray, Director, Institute of Petroleum,.

He explained that bio jet fuel can be produced from animal fat, used cooking oil, waste dairy fat, sewage sludge, etc. The oil needs to have a freezing point below -47 degrees so it doesn’t freeze at altitudes at which planes fly, should not catch fire on ground when being transferred into a plane, must have the same density as ATF, have a certain calorific value and should not choke the filters.

Dr. Ray says that 70% of the cost of the bio fuel constitutes the feed cost and therefore if the production of these crops can be scaled up, the oil produced can be cost competitive. It is also 1.8% more energy dense as compared to ATF and is, therefore, more efficient. A lower sulphur content also means that it causes less wear and tear.

The US Grains Council, a global biofuel promoting organisation, dubbed today’s test flight as a significant breakthrough.

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